By Jim Lowe
THE LOWE DOWN
WESTON — Imagine working for Barbra Streisand in her own personal shopping mall. That’s exactly what Alex More does in Jonathan Tolins’ delightful flight-of-fancy one-man comedy, “Buyer & Cellar.” And Weston Playhouse Theatre Company just opened a charming, affectionate and very funny production on Friday at the Weston Rod & Gun Club — the perfect antidote for these most stressful times.
Actor Kyle Branzel opens with the warning that the story he is about to tell is strictly fiction, but it isn’t long before that is entirely forgotten, for his story quickly becomes engrossing and we are seduced into Alex and Barbra’s intimate world. And it feels just true enough to make it riveting.
Alex is a struggling, gay — yes, that is important — L.A. actor who has just been fired from his job as one of those characters at Disney World. (He made the mistake of responding to a nasty kid’s taunt by suggesting just what the kid could do with himself.) The friend who got him the job at Disney offers him an unusual position in Malibu.
Here, “Buyer & Cellar” finds its basis in fact. In 2010, Streisand published “My Passion for Design,” a coffee-table book filled with her photographs of her Malibu home. Underneath a barn on the property is a basement “shopping mall” that holds her collected possessions, including dolls, gifts and antique clothes.
Arriving in Malibu, Alex finds that his job is to be the mall’s only clerk. And the only customer is Streisand herself, and she doesn’t show up for a while. But when she does, it’s sparks, and not the sexual kind. Alex thinks it’s friendship, but is it?
Barry, Alex’s boyfriend, thinks Streisand is just using him, and will discard him like so many others. Barry is jealous and Alex is smitten, or is it star struck?
“Buyer & Cellar” is simple and effective storytelling thanks to a combination of research and psychology. Branzel takes it a couple of steps further, first by playing the actor, then by playing the actor representing — though not imitating — Streisand, Barry and others.
At Friday’s performance, despite a bit of initial stiffness, Branzel seduced the audience into the world of Alex, Barbra and Barry. You knew it wasn’t true, but, for 90 minutes, you didn’t care.
The production, directed by Weston Playhouse artistic director Steve Stettler, facilitated the storytelling, not by concretely illustrating it, but by subtly changing the atmosphere of its telling. Amith Chandrashaker’s creative lighting subtly changed the feel of Brian Dudkiewicz’s purposely neutral set, letting the story speak for itself.
The result was that Weston Playhouse’s “Buyer & Cellar” is delightful entertainment — fun, funny and touching, and just in time.
Weston Playhouse Theatre Company presents Kyle Branzel in “Buyer & Cellar,” a one-man comedy by Jonathan Tolins, Aug. 10-Sept. 3, part of its OtherStages series at the Weston Rod & Gun Club, 982 Route 100, north of Weston. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $35, $20 for students; call 802-824-5288, or go online to www.westonplayhouse.org.